How to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work

Chelsea Finn
How to Set Healthy Boundaries at Work

In today's world, the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are blurred more than ever before. A lot of this has to do with an increase in remote work around the world since the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you're an employer who is worried that you're asking too much from your team or an employee that's starting to feel the effects from the blurred boundaries between home and work, read on to see how healthy boundaries should be set. 

The reality is that many of us have our work lives sitting right at the kitchen table, technology allows us to be available 24/7 and that's not necessarily a good thing. It may not seem like a big deal to answer a work call after 5pm or to run that report in the evening when it will only take a few minutes but that's going to reinforce the idea that you're always available to work. What might start as a few quick asks or favors here and there could turn into a regular thing and your 40 hour work week could easily turn into a 50 or 60 hour work week, quickly leading to burnout. 


What is Burnout?

Burnout is a mix of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that comes from prolonged stress. You will often feel both overwhelmed and emotionally drained while being unable to keep up with life's demands - whether personal or professional. Burnout can lead to severe physical and mental health symptoms so it's important to understand the signs. 

The Signs of Burnout

Burnout can affect everyone differently, which means there are a lot of different signs and symptoms to look out for. Some people may feel more of the physical symptoms such as headaches or fatigues while others may experience more of the mental or emotional symptoms (which can then turn into physical symptoms and vice versa) such as anxiety, detachment, difficulty concentrating, depression and more. Burnout can directly impact your work with issues such as an increase in negativity towards your job or coworkers, a lack of creativity, frustration, brain fog or any of the physical and mental health symptoms mentioned above.

When employees have reduced productivity and performance it affects your organization's quality control, innovation, decision making and more. Also, employees struggling with burnout are 3x more likely to leave their current employer which could lead to employees stalling in their intended career trajectory or leave companies with a high level of turnover

So how do you avoid burnout? The answer is simple but it's going to take some work - set healthy boundaries. Below are five tips to get you started. 


5 Tips to Help Set Healthy Boundaries

Identify Your Top Priorities

This is a great first step when it comes to setting healthy boundaries and where you can enlist a little help right away. Sit down or schedule a call with your manager and go through your list of responsibilities and discuss what the top 5 should be. And even if you're a manager yourself, chances are you may have to do the same with your own manager as well because the reality is that no matter where you're at - an intern, in an entry-level job, a hiring manager or VP - we all need to re-evaluate our to-do list every once in awhile and remember what our top priorities should be.


Get Comfortable with Saying No

Hear me out - it's okay to say no. When someone asks us for a favor, it's a natural reaction to want to help them out. But if we say yes to everything, it's easy for those tasks to add up - no matter how small they may be. Look at your to-do list and consider whether or not you can realistically take on an additional report or project without spreading yourself too thin. 


Take Time Off of Work 

According to the American Psychological Association, taking time off of work has a huge positive impact. This includes greater job and life satisfaction, less stress and burnout, and even fewer sleep problems. Plus, it's been reported that you may also have less general health complaints like back pain and headaches, which makes sense since stress can lead to physical symptoms. 


Create Built-In Breaks Throughout Your Day

Not only should you be using your vacation time, but you should also be building in breaks throughout your day. There are quite a few hours between lunch and the end of the day. Try to squeeze in at least two 15-minute breaks if possible (this doesn't include lunch!) and go for a quick walk around the block or grab some water and stretch. Taking small breaks will increase your focus when you return to work, which will ultimately improve your productivity and wellness.


Silence Your Notifications Outside of Working Hours

I know this may not always be possible, sometimes there are deadlines or events but you should not have to regularly be tied to your phone or computer outside of working hours. If you have to, set up an automated message letting people know when they can expect to hear back from you. Setting this boundary will tremendously help with your work-life balance. 


Even before the pandemic, studies were showing that job stress has only grown for American adults over the past few decades which means that the importance of setting healthy boundaries isn't exactly new.  But in order to protect your mental and physical health, it's more important than ever to set healthy boundaries at work - whether you're working in an office, remotely or a mix of both. Setting healthy boundaries will only help you live a well-balanced life which will in turn help improve your productivity, happiness and overall wellbeing


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